Ten Consumer Advocate Groups Ask Congress to Strengthen Privacy Bill

Tue, Jun 8, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Will justice be served?

    Ten privacy and consumer organizations have called on the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, for stronger provisions to protect consumer privacy both online and off.

    The groups are urging the House Subcommittee to expand the definition of “sensitive information,” incorporate fair information practices and require opt-in procedures for data collection.

    “The problem is that the bill relies too much on the idea of ‘notice and consent,’ which really hasn’t worked,” said John M. Simpson, a consumer advocate at Consumer Watchdog, Washington. “It also pre-empts stronger state laws and does not allow private action suits.  These provisions are extremely unfriendly for consumers.

    “This bill pretty much allows online businesses to continue the intrusive business practices now in effect,” he said. “We need legislation that gives consumers control of their personal data and how it is used. If consumers had faith that they had control of their data, it would instill greater trust in online businesses to the ultimate benefit of the Internet economy.”

    The groups, including the Consumer Federation of America, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Consumer Watchdog, World Privacy Forum, Consumer Action, USPIRG, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Privacy Times, Privacy Lives, and the Center for Digital Democracy, raised their concerns in a letter to Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher and Ranking Member Cliff Stearns.

    Click here to read the entire letter

    The groups’ letter made a number of recommendations for strengthening the draft privacy bill, including the following items:

    • The bill should incorporate the Fair Information Practice Principles that have long served as the bedrock of consumer privacy protection in the U.S., including the principle of not collecting more data than is necessary for the stated purposes, limits on how long data should be retained, and a right to access and correct one’s data.

    • The bill’s definitions of what constitutes “sensitive information” need to be expanded; for instance, to include health-related information beyond just “medical records.”

    • The bill should require strict “opt-in” procedures for the collection and use of covered data and should prohibit the collection and use of any sensitive information except for the transactions for which consumers provided it.

    “Congress needs to pass legislation that protects consumers when they are targeted for location and mobile advertising,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, Washington.

    “Consumer and privacy groups want Reps. Boucher and Stearns to add new provisions that truly protect consumer privacy – ensuring they can meaningfully opt-in,” he said.

    “A new privacy law should also ensure that only the minimum amount of data is collected from users, that it will become quickly anonymized, and that consumers have access to the data.”

    Senior Editor Giselle Tsirulnik covers advertising, messaging, legal/privacy and database/CRM. Reach her at [email protected].

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